Spa WEC Race day report

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

With the arrival of daylight on Saturday 'hailed' the arrival of the much predicated bad weather across the Liege area of Belgium with up to a couple of inches of snow having fallen across the entire circuit  complex and surrounding hills bringing together picture postcards views.

With snow obviously comes very low air temperatures and for much of the morning activity around the WEC paddock, temperatures never rose by much above freezing point and positioning yourself somewhere near one of the teams tyre oven was certainly the place to be whilst the big thaw set about its business.

With no morning warm-up again came the now extending pit lane walk which was again well attended by the knowledgeable fans as they watched the pit crews prepare their race cars for the forthcoming race and hunted out that illusive driver and autograph opportunity.

For the drivers and teams technical staff, the constantly changing forecast was obviously giving them some headaches as although the race was expected to start under clear skies and sunshine, rain - sometimes heavy was expected so it was all about choosing a base set up that could work in all conditions as once committed one way or the other there was no way back during the race.

Indeed, and about an hour before the opening of the pit lane for the race we watched the AMR mechanics change the springs and wing settings on the #98 car with the assumption that that would both soften the car and add rear end downforce throughout the tracks twisty corners - was this to be the right move?

With temperatures now risen to a balmy +7deg C (ten degrees lower than Thursday), it was finally time for the cars to take to the grid for the start of the 6hrs of Spa Francorchamps. Taking the start for the AMR cars would be Maxime Martin (#97) from P2 , Nicki Thiim (#95) P5, Salih Yoluc (#90) P1 and Paul Dalla Lana (#98) P5 in class.

Despite the opening laps being relatively free of accident and incident, the real talking point soon returned to that of the weather as first rain and then snow quickly swept in across the circuit forcing the Race Director to dispatch the Safety Car for what would be the first time of many as track conditions and visibility deteriorated. Catching the entrance to the pit lane at an optimum time, both AMR GTE Pro cars elected to sacrifice track position in terrible conditions for the chance to swap from slicks to full wets.

With the rest of the pack following suit either on that lap or the next, the #90 TF Sport car of Yoluc found himself on a set of wets that simply weren't gelling with him nor the car and his position tumbled as a result as self preservation was then more important than position.

As soon as the rain and snow had arrived then it had gone again with clear bright sunshine soon pulling up the deposited moisture up off the circuit, drying the racing line and forcing the teams to make strategic calls again - especially with tyres.

By the end of the first hour, the #95 car of Thiim was heading the bunch for #TeamAMR in P3 and was obviously enjoying himself out on track as he battled and bashed with the #71 Ferrari and #82 BMW. The #97 meanwhile had dropped to P7 whilst the #98 was the then strongest AMR in the AM class in P4 and over forty seconds ahead of the #90 TF Sport car.

A second Safety Car was soon called as an LMP2 and and LMP1 clashed at La Source forcing the By Kolles P1 into the tyre wall in the midst of the corner. With no AMR out front, that call would do them no harm as the field simply bunched up again. As soon as the track went green again, a great battle ensued between the #71 Ferrari, #92 Porcshe and both Aston Martin cars with the Ferrari unceremoniously shoving Martin out wide that allowed the Porsche to claim its position ahead.

Worse was to befall the #95 of Thiim just a few laps later when the Racing Team Nederlands LMP2 collided side on with the Dane forcing the Aston into the tyre wall that the By Kolles had only recently hit. Despite sustaining from end damage in the incident, car and driver continued until their next pit stop cycle although their race potential had now been compromised.

Good news in the form of other peoples issues started to come the way of the two AMR Am cars as the #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche was spun out into the gravel at the top of Les Combs which, by the end of the second hour had seen both Vantages raise up to the top half of the timing screen.

With local support bolstering the performance of the #97 car of local driver Martin and Lynn on track, they were now back in the game and pressuring the #91 Porsche for the lead in class. Aggressive (but ultimately fair) defensive manoeuvres from Richard Leitz saw him momentarily push Lynn out onto the grass before the Aston went the long way around the corner for the position - great driving all round there!!

Just after half distance the rain and snow returned that would take the state of the track back to square one again having enjoyed a very much dry line for almost an entire stint but despite that, things were running well in both classes - #97 in P2 in Pro and the #90 TF Sport car heading the Am class in P3 with little over two hours remaining.

With Lynn being told to 'stay out stay out - theres more weather coming' everything was again passed back to the race strategists to predict what might happen and what they should do to maintain or increase their track position. Sure enough, the rain and snow returned - this time with a seemingly higher density that would force yet another Safety Car deployment as visibility plummeted - not just for the drivers but also for the marshals.

A second fate of fortune came the Am cars way as the Championship leading Project 1 Porsche also spun out into the tyre wall by their own volition and with the #90 TF Sport car now up to P2 in class - a large potential points reduction between the two teams looked entirely possible.

Green again with just an hour remaining of this craziest of races yet even that didn't last too long as again the rains returned with 40 minutes remaining - another Safety Car and that would waste another 30 minutes of that to leave a potential 15 minute dash to the flag. 

Who ever said endurance racing is boring?!!?!?

That being said - even that 15minutes didn't last that long as Race Control finally lost patience with the weather and issued the race terminating red flag that signified the end to the race and for Aston Martin Racing and TF Sport that proved to be the best news of the day.

Having narrowly missed out on their class pole position, the #97 AMR GTE Pro car of Martin and Lynn did enough to scoop their first win of the season to reward both them and the team for all their tireless work. The sister #95 would ultimately finish their gruelling race in P7 - a lot lower than first hoped but considering the abuse that the Dane Train had suffered during the race that was entirely understandable.

In GTE Am, it was to be the bridesmaid again for the #90 TF Sport car of Salih Yoluc, Eau Hankey and Charlie Eastwood as after losing out in the first stint to non favourable tyres they came back to just miss out on the top step to the #77 Dempsey Proton Porsche and would have contested for the class win had the race been run to the end.

In Championship standings, these Spa results take the #97 crew just 0.5 point ahead of the #95 crew to hold P6 and P7 respectively in the World Endurance GTE Drivers Championship and with this and the Manufacturers Championship being dominated and presumably will be won by Porsche and their drivers later at Le Mans, the position of runners up is still up for grabs at the 24 hour finale.

IN GTE Am, Eastwood and Yoluc are now up to P3 in the Drivers Championship and well within striking distance of the title from the presently leading Project 1 crew after their DNF at Spa. For the #98 crew, they have dropped down to P5 in that table but still retain a mathematical chance at the championship at Le Mans. These positions are mirrored in the GTE Am Teams Championship as well.

Everything now resolves itself at Le Mans in June - what isn't there to like about that!!

Apologies for the delay in submitting this report - a slip and a fall at Spa with a resulting trip to the local hospital upon our return home proves just how dangerous motor racing can be! 

Photo credits - (driver crews post race) AMR

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